Death-bed wills are fraught with problems and certainly legal advice, should be taken wherever possible. Recently, a death-bed will led to a family tearing itself apart in High Court proceedings over a £630,000 estate – when the input of a solicitor could well have averted conflict.
A daughter had accused her late father’s four ‘traditionalist’ siblings of conspiring to reduce her inheritance because she had ‘shamed their family’ by being born out of wedlock. She claimed that her paternal aunts and uncle had undermined her position because they ‘never liked her and didn’t want to know her’.
Her father’s only child, who would have inherited everything had he died intestate, she had been left just £100,000 of her his £630,000 estate by the will which he signed two weeks before his death from throat cancer. She claimed, amongst other things, that the will had been forged or procured by undue influence.
The daughter claimed that her father had ‘treated her like a princess’ and promised her that she would have no money worries after he died. The animosity within the family was so powerful that, after their brother’s death, his siblings had initially refused to accept that the claimant was his child and she had to undergo DNA testing and obtain a court order to prove her paternity.
However, in dismissing the daughter’s challenge and upholding the validity of the home-made will, the Court ruled that, despite the ‘colossal distrust’ that had blighted the family’, her father had known his own mind when he executed the will, had understood its contents and his bequests were not irrational.
The Court acknowledged that suspicions were raised by the absence of legal advice prior to execution of the will, which was completed on a stationer’s form, and the fact that the will had been ‘encouraged and drawn up by members of the family who stand to benefit under it.’
However, the daughter’s accusations of dishonesty were not backed up by evidence and she had failed to undermine the validity of the will, which had been lawfully executed. The Court observed that her father had been generous to her during his lifetime and had endured ‘divided loyalties all his adult life, and recognised them at the last’.
Although there was ‘plenty of evidence’ that two of his sisters ‘had the opportunity’ to exert pressure on him, his daughter – who suffered from multiple sclerosis and had undergone surgery for cervical cancer – had failed to prove that he was too sick to appreciate the importance of the will or that he lacked the required knowledge and approval of its contents.